Non-conference scheduling has been a bit of a hot-button topic of late among Hoosier Nation. The loudest part of the conversation stems from the absence of arch-rival Kentucky, who has been left off of the docket for the fourth season in a row. The series was placed on hiatus following Indiana's buzzer- beater win in 2011 due to a disagreement on future venues. The Wildcat's head coach John Calipari wanted the series to be moved to off-campus sites, while Indiana's Tom Crean and company wanted the series to remain in Assembly Hall and Rupp Arena, citing the business the game provided for the city of Bloomington, IN.
Indiana has since filled the schedule with games against teams such as Louisville last season and Kansas next season, although inexplicably neither was scheduled for an on-campus site, the former being held at Madison Square Garden and the latter scheduled to be played in Pearl Harbor. Go figure.
Anyway, with the 2015-16 close to finalized and the major opponents known for the upcoming season, let's take a look at three key games facing the Hoosiers before Big Ten play begins.
#1. Wake Forest (Maui Invitational)
On September 26th, Indiana and Wake Forest will face off on the gridiron. Indiana's head football coach Kevin Wilson started the smack talk back in June and the schools will solidify this new found rivalry on the hardwood in the first round of the Maui Invitational.
Coach Wilson is taking a page out of legendary pee-wee hockey coach Coach Reilly's approach that it is not worth winning if you can't win big. Indiana is determined to show continued dominance over terrifying mascots.
In terms of the actual game, it should be exciting to watch IU freshman big man Thomas Bryant go up against the Demon Deacons' 7-foot freshman Doral Moore. Truthfully, Indiana should have a pretty easy time in the contests and advance to play either St. Johns or Vanderbilt, but this is a game the Hoosiers likely need if we are to see the match-up with Kansas that everyone is hoping for.
#2. at Duke (Big Ten-ACC Challenge)
For just the second time in four years Indiana has a true road game on the non-conference schedule, (the other being at Syracuse in the same challenge two seasons ago).
The defending National Champions face a lot of turnover from last season, but reload with the top-ranked recruiting class, which boasts four 5-star recruits.
This game should provide a good measuring stick for where the Hoosiers are at less a month from conference play. Occurring a week after the Hoosiers will have played three days straight in Maui, this will culminate in a great test for IU's depth.
(Insert mandatory mention of facing the Cameron Crazies here.)
#3. Notre Dame (Crossroads Classic)
The battle for the state of Indiana is on as the top four programs all appear to be on the rise, (this includes Purdue and Butler). The state has become a hotbed for recruiting, with each of these four schools trying to keep the state's talent close to home. Notre Dame got the last laugh last season, advancing to the Elite 8 in a Midwest region that featured all four of the Crossroads Classic participants.
Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton are gone, but Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste return to lead the Fightin' Irish. Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell and company will try to exact revenge for a loss to the Irish the last time these two teams faced in the same event back in 2014.
Strength of schedule should be high for Indiana this upcoming season, enough so that the team can afford a couple of losses before the calendar turns to 2016 and it should not affect tournament status.